Following rapid developments in the sexual abuse lawsuit against Prince Andrew, Buckingham Palace issued a statement announcing that Andrew will lose all his remaining patronages and military titles (such as Colonel of the Grenadier Guards). Additionally, he will no longer use his HRH (“His Royal Highness”) style.
This is an overdue step after Andrew effectively left public life following his disastrous Newsnight interview, where he unconvincingly attempted to address the allegations of sexual assault levelled against him by Virginia Giuffre.
In late 2019, some titles and duties were suspended “for the forseeable future”, creating the possibility that Andrew could return to public life in the future.
Now that the lawsuit against him is proceeding to a trial (unless a settlement is reached out of court), the palace has decided to remove his titles altogether.
That Prince Andrew will never return to public life is implicit in the palace’s statement, as all patronages and military positions will revert back to the Queen. Given the Queen’s age, she will likely redistribute them to other members of the royal family.
This decision is similar to the one reached with Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex in 2019, when they stepped back from their roles as senior royals. Then, the Queen announced that her grandson and his wife would no longer use the HRH title.
Andrew is now in the same position, though for quite different reasons. Formally, all three retain the HRH title, but will not use it in official capacity.
The difficulty for the Queen is that both Prince Harry and Prince Andrew are entitled to retain the title under Letters Patent issued by George V in 1917 (this is a legal document that effectively expresses the wishes of the monarch). It would take a further Letters Patent for a HRH title to be removed from someone.
In 1996 this happened with Diana, Princess of Wales, following her divorce with Prince Charles. This was enormously controversial at the time, but it shows that it is possible for someone to formally lose their HRH title.
The grand old Duke of York Still, Andrew has not lost everything. He retains the title of “prince” from birth, and remains the Duke of York, which is a peerage. Under the law, both titles and peerages are forms of intangible property (incorporeal hereditaments). A general principle of law is that property cannot simply be seized from someone without prior legal authorisation. He also remains in the line of succession for the throne.
Again, we have to go back to 1917, this time to consider the example of the Titles Deprivation Act. This allowed for peerages and the title of “prince” to be removed from those “who have, during the present war, borne arms against His Majesty or His Allies, or who have adhered to His Majesty’s enemies”.
The Duke of Albany, Duke of Cumberland and Teviotdale, and Duke of Brunswick all lost their peerages because they were officers in the German Army during the first world war. Similarly, for Andrew’s dukedom and title of prince to be removed, an act of parliament would be required. This is unlikely to be a priority for MPs at the moment.
Looking to the future, when Andrew dies, the dukedom will die with him, as he leaves no male heir. Traditionally, the peerage would go to the second eldest son of the monarch (the eldest son becomes Prince of Wales, and the Duke of Cornwall). Perhaps when the time comes, Prince Louis may prefer another title to avoid any association with his great uncle.
Andrew also retains the position of Councillor of State. Should the Queen be unable to fulfil her formal legal duties due to illness, Councillors of State can fulfil those duties on her behalf. This is provided for by the Regency Acts 1937 to 1953, which specify that the first four in the line of succession of full age (which in this case is 21 not 18), are appointed as Councillors. That currently means Prince Charles, Prince William, Prince Harry and Prince Andrew. Two are expected to act together, which if required, would be Prince Charles and Prince William. Again, for this to change, an act of parliament would be required.
There are other problems with the Regency Acts, making reform more likely in the near future, especially when Prince Charles becomes King. This would create the opportunity to more thoroughly address the position of both Prince Harry and Prince Andrew.
The dukedom and Andrew’s position as a Councillor of State mean that the separation of Prince Andrew from royal life is not entirely complete, but it is as far as the Queen can go for now. The rest is up to Parliament.
(By Craig Prescott, Lecturer in Law, Bangor University Bangor, UK)